A pivotal Supreme Court seat hangs in the balance while the U.S. Senate and America wait to learn if Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser will testify regarding her sexual assault allegation against President Trump’s nominee.
Screen capture from C-Span
Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore said it is important to hear from both Kavanaugh and his accuser regarding a charge he thinks would make the nominee unfit if true.
“Obviously, if this did happen, that would be disqualifying,” Moore said in a Sept. 18 appearance on CNN. “And obviously if this did not happen, it would be a horrible thing to wrongfully accuse someone of doing.”
Kavanaugh, 53, appeared headed toward confirmation by the Senate to the high court until an allegation surfaced that he had sexually assaulted a girl when both were teenagers. Christine Blasey Ford, 51, identified herself and went public with her story in a Sept. 16 account in The Washington Post. Kavanaugh denied Ford’s accusation.
On Sept. 17, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said Ford “deserves to be heard” and announced a public hearing for Sept. 24 at which both Ford and Kavanaugh would appear. Ford’s lawyers wrote Grassley Sept. 18 to say an FBI investigation of the charge should take place first, although one of them had said earlier Ford was ready to testify to the committee.
Grassley said Wednesday (Sept. 19) he has set a deadline of 10 a.m. Friday (Sept. 21) for Ford’s lawyers to respond to the invitation to testify Sept. 24, according to news reports. He told Democrats on the committee in a letter the same day he has offered to Ford “a public hearing, a private hearing, a public staff interview, or a private staff interview.”
Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), said both Ford and Kavanaugh should be respected as the truth is sought in a confusing, serious time.
“[T]he problem is we are living in a time when everyone wants to have every situation immediately adjudicated in time to put a post on Facebook,” he said. “The charges here are so serious and the implications are so serious for abused women and girls either to ignore it or to trivialize it would be a mistake.”
Moore noted he deals nearly daily with young women who are assault or abuse victims.
“I don’t want them to hear from whatever political debate’s going on, ‘Don’t come forward. Don’t tell your story,’” he said. “And I’m often dealing with people in the criminal justice system who have been wrongfully accused of doing things they haven’t done. And so I don’t want us to simply rush to judgment immediately … on the basis of where our political convictions lie.”
Ford – a professor at Palo Alto (Calif.) University who teaches clinical psychology to graduate students – told The Post that Kavanaugh and a friend, both drunk, took her into a bedroom during a party in the early 1980s in a suburb of Washington, D.C., Kavanaugh allegedly restrained her on the bed, groped her, tried to remove her clothes and placed a hand over her mouth when she sought to scream.
In a statement sent from the White House to The Post, Kavanaugh said, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
Before Ford’s allegation became public, it appeared Kavanaugh, a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals, would gain all 51 Republican votes and maybe some Democratic votes in the 100-member chamber before the new Supreme Court term opens Oct. 1. The Judiciary Committee hearing on his confirmation Sept. 4-7 was tumultuous but seemed to do nothing to block his path to approval.
Some Republican senators – such as Jeff Flake of Arizona and Susan Collins of Maine – called for a delay in a confirmation vote until Ford had an opportunity to speak to the committee. Flake and Collins have seemed to indicate they would vote for confirmation if Ford refuses to testify.
Opponents of Kavanaugh – considered an originalist who interprets the Constitution based on its initial meaning – fear his confirmation would move the high court in a more conservative direction. Trump nominated him to replace Anthony Kennedy, often a swing vote between factions on the bench.
Democrat and pro-choice Republican senators are particularly concerned he could be a fifth vote to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion. Kavanaugh’s record as an appellate judge has received favorable reviews from nearly all pro-life and religious freedom advocates.
When Trump announced his nomination of Kavanaugh in July, a statement signed by Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, both vice presidents, several former presidents and SBC entity heads was released in support of the judge. The ERLC sponsored the document.
Later, Greear – speaking on behalf of first vice president A.B. Vines and second vice president Felix Cabrera – said, “All three of us have a desire to keep the SBC out of politics, but we also want to speak with clarity in those places we feel like there is clarity. And when it came to potential justice Kavanaugh, here’s somebody who has a history of standing for the sanctity of life and religious liberty.”
If Kavanaugh is confirmed, Trump will have been able to nominate two of the members of the high court in his first two years in the White House. He nominated Neil Gorsuch in January 2017, and the Senate confirmed the federal appeals court judge in a 54-45 vote.
A judge on the D.C. Circuit Court for 12 years, Kavanaugh was approved 57-36 by the Senate in 2006 after a three-year delay following his nomination. Previously, his experience included time as a senior associate counsel and staff secretary for President George W. Bush, as well as a Supreme Court clerk for Kennedy.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. Reprinted from Baptist Press, baptistpress.com, news service of the Southern Baptist Convention.)